England are in the UAE and about to face the most exciting team on the planet. The only International team with a quality leg spinner. A team so good that Aamir probably couldn’t get his place back even if the Pope ratified his selection. A team that will probably hammer England in the Tests, and inexplicably lose the One Dayers.
But these expected Test losses shouldn’t be Alastair Cook’s fault, for he has transformed himself into an okay captain who scores runs again. So this is a ‘not quite apology’, because I genuinely never thought that would happen, and I confidently wrote he would fail with the bat, and lose us the Urn.
I was wrong.
Most pundits confidently expected England would lose the Ashes this summer. At the start of the series, after New Zealand had shown us the quality of their play in the second Test of that series after their jet lagged play in the first, most of us quaked at the thought of the Aussies bowling machine. They seemed so fast, so accurate and so left-armed. They had rightly claimed the World Cup as their own, and they turned up in England with the victory speeches already written.
Whilst some of the blame for their poor showing must fall on the Aussies themselves, it was still England that WON the series. It wasn’t given to them. But before we look at this, and I make my ‘non-apology’, let’s look at the arrogance of them Aussies a little.
Nothing pleases an Englishman more than seeing their colonial commoners from down under get a good slapping down. The Australian team arrived in Blighty with such an air of confidence that it appeared they resented having to play for the Urn. Despite statistics showing that nowadays the home team always wins, they marched onto our shores with no plans, no schemes and no plan B. Pasty Faced seventies porn star wannabee Stevie ‘Farah Fawcett’ Smith even said as much on an interview. It was stupid, and they played stupid cricket. They were met by discipline and skill, with pitches to match and they were beaten soundly. The final scoreline actually flattered them. Us Test Match Special fans became bored of Sir Geoffrey uttering the phrase “Brainless Cricket” to describe shot selection, team selection and tactical selections. England ended the careers of many of the visitors, but for most of these players this was a tour too far. It was, if we are being honest, a rubbish Ashes rubber. But England won! Despite Australia’s arrogance, against a lesser team and a lesser captain they would still have prevailed.
But back to Cook. After we hadn’t wowed in the West Indies, and after he had been thankfully put out of his misery before the World Cup it seemed his days of glory were over. Although stats could be used to show that he was actually in form he wasn’t. All who had seen him grind out those career saving 95 runs the year before felt a kind of joy one feels when your old dog survives a trip to the vets. He did ‘enough’. The days of him running in the park, splashing in the lake and pooing freely under a tree (as opposed to the lounge carpet) long gone (I am still working my analogy. I have no side info as to whether Cook poos on his lounge rug). His brain seemed scrambled, and his technique was awful (back to Cook, not the dog). He wasn’t quite the Shane Watson of England but he was close. He watched us fail miserably in the World Cup, scored a few unspectacularly in the Caribbean and observed ‘New’ England play the New Zealand way in the One Day series. That series was incredible. England picked a new team who played with a freedom unthought of before. There was a wiff of elation and hope while the games were happening, then a depression at the thought of Captain Boring coming back to take charge.
Cook countered our expectations and the arrogant Aussies by playing ordered and disciplined cricket. He scored runs (no centuries). He made intelligent changes in the field. He sometimes didn’t have a third man or long leg. He sometimes (wonderfully) did. He still ignored the legslip position, but marshalled his troops with skill. He even made the odd attacking manoeuvre. He did okay. More than okay. And his team, well-his bowlers and Root, delivered him the results.
How much the sacking of Moores helped him, none can say. Moores was loved by the team, as is Cook. I feel it was because Moores was so loved that the team were happy to go with his dreadful decisions. They loved him blindly. Too blindly. The new setup are quieter in the media, but seem to be making better decisions, apart from the utterly stupid one to drop Ballance from the squad. It remains to be seen whether they are going to pick a team with a proper player against spin (Taylor) to play on pitches that will probably spin, with a proper spinner and all that. But I am confident they will. They did pick Samit, which seems so bizarre as to render all optimism dead. But I am just going to ignore this, because I don’t understand it at all, and I want to stay positive. I am not even going to mention the spinning alternatives. No, Cook and Bayliss have the team they want, and after winning the Ashes they have won the right to make a couple of seemingly daft squad choices. I thought the decision to drop Kevin was daft, but even he himself now says it was the right one.
So Alastair. I know you will never read this. Heck, I would be surprised if anyone makes it this far. But having been prepared to put money on your not still being Captain before this series, along with an Aussie win I am happy to say sor….
Only I can’t say sorry. You’ve improved. You are now just good enough as skipper. You still did all those odd things, and you are still the player who tried via the BBC to have a ‘hit’ put on Shane Warne. You are still the one who stubbornly hung on to the captaincy of the One Day team. You are still the champion of the long leg and the useless long mid off. You ruined Trott’s comeback to try to get you back in form. You are still the lovely bloke who sang with a bunch of my singing colleagues as a choir boy-colleagues who would walk on water to support you. You are still one of the most popular players to play for England despite helping to destroy the career of the biggest draw England have had since Beefy.
So please go on proving us all wrong. Score thousands more runs, win Tests by doing just enough. We will back you all the way.
Just don’t demand an apology. That’s too much.